How not to use online genealogy

I recently decided to invest in an annual subscription to Ancestry.co.uk.  I therefore intend to use it extensively over the next year in order to bolster my tree and to add leafs through their very fat database of resources.

A little background.  I've researched my family tree since at least 1988, but not continuously.  Back in the day, there were no online resources.  the most modern thing were census on microfilm and the Mormon IGI (International Genealogical Index - the ancestor of FamilySearch.org) available in the Local Studies Library.  My tree started, as it should, through interviewing elderly relatives, looking through their photos, the few birth and marriage certificates, and any other artifacts.  Those elderly relatives have all passed on now.  if you are just starting with genealogy - do it now.  I then moved on to the English & Welsh County record offices.  White gloves and pencils, in order to peruse through the original parish registers and other documents - no digitalisation, or even microfilming of them then.  Very little indexing as well.

Then I was ordering GRO certificates from London, paying professional researchers to collect them for me, as it worked out cheaper than having them mailed to me by the GRO!  Then rather than looking for DNA matches, it was searching through surname interests or through the annually published GRD (Genealogical Research Directory) for shared ancestry.  The good old days.

I said it wasn't continuously.  Interests changed, I lived out life recklessly, and moved on a few times, leaving all behind.  I lost pretty much all of my genealogy.  Meanwhile, digitalisation was coming in fast, indexing increasing, and the Internet was giving birth to online genealogy.  During this birth, I had used an early version of Broderbund Family Tree Maker (it installed on several floppy disks) on a personal computer, and even managed to upload data and a GEDCOM file to a few places.

Then maybe 16 months ago, after ordering a 23andMe test, I picked it up again.  I found my old GEDCOM file on a web archive.  Downloaded it, opened it with open source Gramps software.  It worked!  Since then, I've gathered surviving notes (so many lost), photos, and certificates.  I then discovered a remarkable resource.  Online Genealogy.

Online Genealogy

There are many online resources.  The big providers include Ancestry.com (Ancestry.co.uk), FindMyPast.co.uk, MyHeritage.com, and FamilySearch.org.  All but the latter website are subscription fee based.  Asides from these providers, there are many other services for genealogy online.  Of the above, I have heavily used FindMyPast, FamilySearch, and Ancestry.

Online Genealogy using Ancestry.com

The big advantage of Online Genealogy is indexing and the database.  Over the past 25 years or so, armies of volunteers and paid researchers, have been reading through microfilmed, microfisches, or digitalised images of masses of parish registers, parish records, wills, criminal registers, state records, military records, Bishop's transcripts, Headstone surveys, and more - from not only England & Wales but from all over the World, where they are available.  They read the names of those recorded, and add them to computer files with references.  Businesses such as Ancestry.com, buy access to these indexes, and often to the original digitalised images if they exist.  These are all added to their own database.  Their customers search, and find ancestors.

A Few Problems

  1. I can report this for English records, for which I have a lot of experience. The record is still very incomplete.  You might see a Joe Bloggs, but is it your ancestor Joe Bloggs?  Many of the parish records were missing, or damaged.  Parish chests in cold churches can be damp places, the registers pulled out for every baptism, marriage, or burial, thumbed through by all.  Paper was valuable in older records, and the priests and clerks cram their little scribbled lines in them.  There were stories of vicar's wife's using old registers to kindle the fire in the vicarage.  In addition, not ALL parish registers are online at any one depository.  I've noticed that Ancestry.com is very good for Norfolk registers, but abysmal for Suffolk.  FindMyPast is good for Berkshire records.  They are far from complete records.  In addition, some ancestors were not in any parish records.  They were rogues on the run, vagabonds, or even more often ... non-conformists.  Some priests were lazy.  All of this on top of those many missing or damaged records.
  2. The indexers were human beings.  Sometimes volunteers, sometimes more recently I suspect, poorly paid human beings outside of Europe (is this the case?)  They vary in skill at reading 18th century, 17th, even 16th century hand writing that has been scribbled down in often damaged records.  The database searches for names that sound similar (to a computer program), but they miss so many that are incorrectly transcribed.  Try to read through the original images if you can.

So the record is far from complete.  The online record less so.  A brilliant tool, but it's not going to hand you your family tree all perfect and true.  If you understand this problem, and you are more concerned about truth and quality, than about quickly producing a family tree back to Queen Boadicea (I have seen people claim such things!), then you are already aware of this.  The problem is, that you know that an ancestor was called Joe Bloggs.  Online, you find a Joe Bloggs, living 100 miles away, born about the right time.  With a click, you "add" him to the tree, then resume climbing up from him.  What you may not realise, is that there were maybe 20 Joe Bloggs born at about the right time within a 100 mile radius of the next generation.  You just picked the one that your online ancestry service flashed up to you.  He is quite probably not close family, never mind your ancestor.  All above him are not your ancestors.

Truth and quality in a family tree

Do you care?  Is it possible to trace back more than several generations, and to preserve that quality? The 20th and 19th centuries in England & Wales are great.  We have records from a national census every 10 years between 1841 and 1911.  They can be searched with your online service.  We have them as correlations for parish records.  We also have state records to correlate with from 1837!  Before that though, it gets a bit scratchy.  Particularly if your ancestors were not titled - as most of them were not!  Then we are down to scribbles in parish registers, a few tax books, tithes, military rolls.  Great stuff, but increasingly - we lose correlations.  We lose certainty.

When we lose certainty, we have to start to make judgments.  Do we add an ancestor based on little record?  We have to make that judgement ourselves.  We should add the resource, name it, perhaps publish our uncertainty.  We should be ready to remove if doubt grows rather than certainty.

I've not mentioned biological certainty here.  Haplogroup DNA can challenge some very old trees.  Things happen in biology.  We call them NPE (Non Parental Event).  Spouses cheat, lie, prostitute, are raped, commit bigamy, incest, confused.  People secretly adopt, particularly during a crisis.  I have seen a claim of the average NPE happening once in every ten generations on average.  I don't think that we can truly measure this.  Anyway, I'm of the school that although DNA genealogy is interesting in the pursuit of the past, that family is not always just about biology.  Who reared them?  Who gave them their name?  If that is family, it's also ancestry.


But the ultimate mistake with using online genealogy

This one is easy.  It is that companies such as Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, allow, sometimes encourage the resourcing of other members family trees.  It has nothing to do with rights or property.  It has to do with the reproduction of mistakes, and bad quality research.  It indeed gives genealogy at online sites like these, a pretty bad name.

Many users of these sites are casual.  They have only used the online resources available through the quick click and collect ancestry of these services.  They are only trying to pursue as far back, as possible, within as short time as possible.  Truth and quality is of very much secondary value.  It's the consume society.  They leave their disjointed trees of fiction all over these web services.  Then Ancestry / MyHeritage, invites you to add them to your own.  Very much internet viral in form - the errors replicate like mutations in a strand of DNA, only with lightening speed.  It's so easy to add new layers of ancestry.  But they are fiction.  I've seen people marrying before they are born, dying before they give birth.  I've seen people marry their parents or uncles.   I myself, recently tried it en mass as an experiment to a tree.  It was incredible.  The discrepancies and errors.  Ugly.

So, if you have to, look at other trees. I strongly recommend that you avoid that temptation to simply click and collect ancestry.  Most of the genuine ancestry on these trees is available to be quickly found with your own use of the services on that site.  Do that, but make your own judgments.  Don't add to the virus trees.  Genealogy is for the long haul.

Family Tree Quality Control

As I wait for my Living DNA test results, I've been investing more research time into my documentary trail.  This has included ordering several birth - marriage - death certificates from the GRO (General Register Office, UK Gov), and further checks, rechecks, and searches online using Ancestry.co.uk, Findmypast.co.uk, and FamilySearch.org.

Filling in the blanks.  looking for correlations.

I've recently found an incorrect ancestor.  A Nicholls on my mother's side.  The usual case.  I had found a perfect candidate in one very close parish.  I followed their trail, added three generations including heaps of siblings.  On recent review though - I find another candidate, in another close parish.  Sure enough, when I investigate all of the evidence - this one was far more likely.  It was backed by census claims.  I even found my previous candidate living with another family years later in a census.

I still make mistakes in genealogy, and expect to continue to do so.  In this case, I've had to crop away at a bushy branch and replace it relatively, with a twig.  It's all about pursuing the truth though, isn't it?  To the best our abilities to use data that is available.

The new GRO certificates haven't revealed anything revolutionary so far.  All of them though have turned out to belong.  The marriage of great grandparents Fred Smith to Emily Barber gave me their non-conformist chapel location in Norwich, their marriage date, and confirmed everything that I knew about them at this point of their life.  The death of my 2xgreat grandfather Henry Brooker gave me his death date, cause of death, last job, last address in Dartford, and was registered by my great grandfather (living at the same address as during the 1939 register).  without seeing the certificate, I could have never have proven that this was my Henry Brooker on the indexes.

I also purchased the birth certificate of my 3xgreat uncle Henry Shawers.  i was hoping that it might give some clues to my elusive 3xgreat grandfather Henry Shawers, and onto his origins.  Nothing there I'm afraid, although again, it belonged to the right family.  Confirms that he was who I thought.

Now I'm waiting on the marriage certificate of George Barber to Maria Ellis.  I have some concerns on this one, touch wood no unpleasant surprises.

A new Ancestral Parish - Maxey, near Peterborough

By Rodney Burton [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

This line descends to me via my paternal grandmother, Doris Brooker nee Smith.  Her paternal grandmother was Ann Smith nee Peach. She lived during the 19th Century in Attleborough, Norfolk, but her origins baffled me for years before online genealogical research enabled me to crack it.

I published how I cracked it, and her father's story here.  In brief, her mother, Sarah, was born Sarah Riches near to Attleborough in Norfolk at Great Hockham in 1812.  Then ... somehow, she met a David Peach, from the East Midlands.  He was a shepherd and drover, and I'm best guessing that his vocation brought him into contact with a Norfolk bride.  He may have been droving livestock to Norfolk pastures or markets.  She returned to his home, in Etton.  Etton, is a village on East Midland county borders that has fluctuated in history between Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, and the modern district of Peterborough.  It was this fuzziness that hid his roots from me for a little longer.  They married in Etton in 1835.  Their daughter, and my ancestor, Ann Peach, was born later that year at Etton.

In 1837, her father David Peach was convicted at Lincoln Assize Courts of stealing two cattle.  He was sentenced to Life Transportation to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).  He went on to be transferred to a particularly tough penal colony in Tasmania.  He was eventually pardoned, but not granted licence to return to England.  Meanwhile, his wife Sarah, and her young daughter, Ann, somehow managed to return to Norfolk, where she found refuge with her parents, now living in the market town of Attleborough.  For a while they went to live on as servants.  For years, Sarah remained in Attleborough, never remarrying, although she had at least two more children.  She worked to support herself and her children as a charwoman or washer woman, working a laundry.

But ... where were the roots of her East Midland Shepherd husband, David Peach?  I suspected that he was local to the Etton area.  Inquiries at various FHS stands at the 2016 Who do you think you are? event in Birmingham had lead me to this position.  Peach's seemed to be local, but the county boundaries kept changing.  I suspected the Stamford area.

Then a fresh search today.  I've recently taken out a month worth of subscription to Ancestry.co.uk.  They appear to have had a lot of Northamptonshire County Council archive records, indexes, and digitalised images added.  There, I found his family!

The ancestors via David Peach that I discovered today (see the above direct tree) were entirely from the parish next to Etton, the parish of Maxey.  This village today belongs to the District of Peterborough, and has been associated with Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire - but back then, fell within the County of Northampton.

The Peach family seem to have been shepherds and drovers for a few generations at Maxey.  David was baptised at Maxey in early 1807, the son of John and Ann Peach of that village.  His father had taken the name of an elder brother that had died as an infant, while their mother was carrying him.  The elder John had been the twin brother of Joseph Peach.  Joseph turns up as a witness at so many 18th Century Maxey weddings that I'm guessing that he had some sort of local office in the parish, or was a particularly popular man!  Our John (the 2nd), was relatively quiet on record, and unfortunately my search didn't reveal his marriage, nor the surname of his own wife Ann.  He did witness his elder brother's Joseph wedding alongside an Ann Mason.  Who knows?

Our ancestor John Peach's parents were a Maxey couple, that married there in 1762 - Peter Peach and Mary Rippon.  I can then trace Mary's baptism and parents in Maxey - she was baptised there in 1734.  Her father was Robert Rippon, a Maxey tailor.  He married our ancestor Alice Saunderson at Maxey in 1710.  Her parents in turn were Christopher and Alice Saunderson of Maxey.

And so ends today's family history lesson.  I now have 243 direct ancestors named in the tree.  I did add new siblings where I could find them by trawling the online digitalised images of the parish records and bishop's transcripts.

Photo of St Peter's Church, Maxey, Cambridgeshire under Creative Commons by Meg Nicol on Flickr

Updated direct Ancestry stats:

Generation 1 has 1 individual. (100.00%)

Generation 2 has 2 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 3 has 4 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 4 has 8 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 5 has 16 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 6 has 31 individuals. (96.88%)

Generation 7 has 57 individuals. (89.06%)

Generation 8 has 55 individuals. (42.97%)

Generation 9 has 46 individuals. (18.75%)

Generation 10 has 18 individuals. (3.91%)

Generation 11 has 6 individuals. (0.59%)

Total ancestors in generations 2 to 11 is 243. (12.07%)

Two Fathers and more Online Genealogy

The above photograph is of my great great grandfather, William Bennett Baxter, born at Gressenhall Workhouse, Norfolk, England, in 1846.

Well, I've finally updated my Gramps genealogical database for the first time for months.  It's grown!  It now includes details for over 1,600 ancestors and family relatives.  I have to admit, a lot of the swell is down to online genealogical research, using Findmypast.co.uk, Ancestry.co.uk, Norfolk FHS, BMD, FamilySearch.org, etc.  I DON'T ever resort to copying off other people's trees, although I do at times, when I'm stuck, check them to see how other's think, as the hints that they should be.  To be honest though, I often don't agree with their conclusions.  

I do use Search.  I do use transcriptions - but whenever the original image is available (as it increasingly is now), I do verify with it.  Quite often, transcribers get it wrong.  I do also enjoy browsing through digitalised images of parish records, looking for siblings and clues.

Two Fathers

With traditional documentary-based genealogical research, we of course cannot prove a biological line.  We can rarely identify NPEs (Non-Parental Events).  All that we can do, is do our very best to track names through family interviews, documents and records.  Wherever possible, we should verify connections, check and record sources, look for correlations.  This isn't however always possible.  The genealogist has to then decide whether they have enough evidence to connect an ancestor.

For quite some time, I was proud that I had recorded all of my ancestors up to and including great great grandparent level.  However, at great great great grandparent level (Generation 6), I had three missing direct ancestors.  All three of them were the unrecorded father's of three great great grandparents, born illegitimate in Norfolk during the 19th Century.  I had 29 out of 32 biological ancestors recorded for Generation 6.

Then recently, I cracked two of them!  At least I have one evidence for their names.  Two of my illegitimate born great great grandparents, William Bennett Baxter, and Harriet Barber, were actually a married couple.  They were both illegitimate, and had both been born in Gressenhall Union Workhouse close to East Dereham in Norfolk.  William was base-born there  to a pauper named Eliza Baxter.  That she gave him the middle name "Bennett", and there had been Bennetts in the area, always made me suspect that his biological father was believed to have belonged to a Bennett Family, but which?

Then some research online, and it was a back to basics research that cracked it.  I was sure that I had seen their 1866 marriage certificate or entry, at nearby Swanton Morley before, probably years ago.  But if I had seen it before, and I now suspect that I hadn't, then I missed the key.  They BOTH named their alleged biological fathers in their marriage register entry!  How could I have not seen this before?

William Bennett Baxter claimed that he was the son of a labourer, by the name of ... William Bennett.  Harriet Baxter (nee Barber), claimed that her father was a labourer by the name of William Barker.  It's only their word, on their marriage entry - to their knowledge, but I've accepted that testimony, and have added ancestors on those lines.  I haven't yet found much about William Bennett. But I did quickly find more on my 4 x great grandfather William Barker.  He was a shoe maker in East Dereham, the son of a master boot maker.  Perhaps his family didn't approve.  Two years later he married an Elizabeth Wales.

My Fan Chart of Direct Ancestry, updated. I now have 234 direct ancestors named.

Other New Ancestors

The majority (but not all) of my newly claimed ancestors have been Norfolk ancestors on my Father's paternal side, balancing things up rather nicely.  Some of the newly discovered branches include a substantial number of new ancestors recorded both in Dereham, Norfolk, and in the nearby village of Swanton Morley.  They were two very ancestral homes in my tree.  I've recently extended the Baxter of Dereham line back safely to the 1760's.  I've also traced more of my great grandmother Faith Brooker's (nee Baxter) tree, including her direct maternal line to a Rachael Bradfield of Dereham.  Her daughter Elizabeth was baptised there in 1745.  In 1767, Elizabeth Bradfield married our 7 x great grandfather Solomon Harris at Swanton Morley.

I've also extended the line going back from my paternal grandmother (Doris Brooker nee Smith).  I've found more of her ancestors in the South Norfolk village of Hedenham, stretching back to a James Goodram, the son of John and Lydia Goodrum.  James was baptised at Hedenham in 1780.

Finally, I've tidied a few dates on my mother's side, and even started to reassess the ancestry of my children's mother.

Here is a count of direct ancestors from a Gramps report:

Generation 1 has 1 individual. (100.00%)

Generation 2 has 2 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 3 has 4 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 4 has 8 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 5 has 16 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 6 has 31 individuals. (96.88%)

Generation 7 has 55 individuals. (85.94%)

Generation 8 has 53 individuals. (41.41%)

Generation 9 has 44 individuals. (17.97%)

Generation 10 has 16 individuals. (3.52%)

Generation 11 has 6 individuals. (0.59%)

Total ancestors in generations 2 to 11 is 235. (11.68%)

That's enough genealogy for a while!  Living DNA report next.  Sample was activated and returned.

On the trail of the Brookers of Oxfordshire

The Parish Church of All Saints, in the South Oxfordshire village of Rotherfield Peppard.  Taken on my phone cam during a recent ancestor hunt in this area.  Rotherfield Peppard is the location of my earliest verified Brooker ancestors.

Background

Many years ago, perhaps nearly twenty years ago, I had traced my surname family line to a John & Elizabeth Brooker that lived in the South Oxfordshire village of Rotherfield Peppard during the 1841 census.  My trail came to a dead end with that John Brooker.  He was my G.G.G.G grandfather, and was born circa 1787.  John fathered another John, who fathered Henry, who fathered John Henry, who fathered Reginald John, who fathered my father.  My surname trail has been stuck there ever since.

Until perhaps very soon into the future.  I lost interest in genealogy around twelve years ago or so.  Really, my interest started to drift away perhaps soon after discovering the above dead end on my surname line.  Then an impulse buy of a 23andMe kit this January, and inspired by the new genetics side of the interest, I returned to genealogy a few months ago.  I discovered the advantages (and some of the downfalls) of 21st Century Internet Genealogy.  I've expanded my family tree in several directions using these new resources.  But that old surname, that continued to frustrate.

You see that 1841 census, it left me with a teaser.  Later censuses record the actual parish of birth, and actual age of each person in England & Wales.  The 1841 census however, merely asked people if they were born within the county of residence or not, and summarised their ages into five year round ups.  Elizabeth stated that yes, she was born in Oxfordshire.  John on the other hand said No!  He was born outside of Oxfordshire.  I remember the long drive home from the Oxfordshire County Record Office many years ago, and considering that answer.  I knew that the nearest other county was Berkshire, and that I kept seeing Brooker families in Berkshire.  I speculated that he most likely was from Berkshire.  It was a bit of a surprise, because my wife at that time, and the mother of my children had ancestors herself nearby in Berkshire.

The Y Factor

That 23andMe DNA test revealed a number of surprises.  One of them was that I had an incredibly rare Y-DNA haplogroup for North-West Europe.  As a Y haplogroup, "L" is mainly found in any percentages in South Asia, particularly in South India, and also around Pakistan.  My actual sub clade however, is rarer, and is mainly found south of the Caucasus in Western Asia, where Anatolia meets the Levant.  One ethnicity that it has been linked to are the Pontic Greeks that traditionally lived around the Black Sea.  I'm presently investigating it with a thorough ftDNA Y111 STR test, followed by an ftDNA Big Y test.  Yes, I've chucked too much money at it.

Okay, it's just a genetic signal, just a marker.  It doesn't have any value nor effect on who I am.  But it does link me to a part of the World in a kind of personal, measured way, that I never imagined.  I do want to know, so far as I can, how this Y haplogroup got into Europe, into North-West Europe, into Britain, and into my Brooker surname line.  Can I use it to link to any distant Y cousins, that live today or perhaps in the past (ancient DNA) in other ethnicities?  Will any Brookers directly descended from the same Oxfordshire cluster of Brookers, ever test, and record their haplogroup online?  If I don't test and record myself, then no, that will never happen.  I'm not expecting recent cousins.  I hope to merely find very distant cousins.  In a sense I already have.  I have many in India, Pakistan, Armenia, Syria, Chechnya, etc.  We all do.  However I know have a link that I can measure.

This has forced me to re-launch my investigation in my surname line.  Will I find any clues to how and when it entered the line?

"There aren't many Brookers around here"...

It should be easy right?  Even local genealogists have said to me "there aren't many Brookers around here".  Wrong. There are a lot in the Thames Valley, and they've been there quite some time.  Most researchers of the Brooker surname, end up in Kent/Sussex.  That is because Kent is the English county, with the highest density of the Brooker surname today in telephone directories etc.  At first, I thought that my Brooker line came out of Kent, because my great grandfather lived at Sidcup for many years.  However, I later discovered that his father actually originated in South Oxfordshire.  There are scatters of Brookers across England.  There's even one family established in Suffolk.  The Oxfordshire / Berkshire Brooker cluster however, is second only to the Kent/Sussex cluster.  They've been in the Thames Valley quite some time.

So, on returning to genealogy, I start to use the new Internet resources.  FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.co.uk, FindMyPast.com.  I search for John Brooker born circa 1787 anywhere, but particularly in Berkshire.  I narrowed it down to about three candidates, and then by a process of elimination down to one, my most likely candidate.  I check censuses to see if John Brooker of Berkshire disappears before my validated John Brooker of Oxfordshire emerges on the 1841 census, married to Elizabeth, with several kids.  Finally, I settled on my favourite.  He was born at Hurley, Berkshire.  Only four miles away from a major bridge over the Thames into Henley, Oxfordshire, and seven miles from Rotherfield Peppard.  I even travelled down to the area, to check it out.  It was all so plausible.  I'd cracked the puzzle after all of these years.  Noone else on Ancestry.com sharing my Brookers had come up with the same answer.  Most were stuck at 1841, or later.  One had a silly proposal to a highly improbable ancestor.  I had reached Hurley.

In Hurley, I took this new extension back to another John Brooker, before him a Richard Brooker, before that another Richard Brooker, as well as some of the maternal lines.  A cracking breakthrough.  I was back to G.G.G.G.G.G.G grandparents on my surname line.  I was chuffed, even announced it here and on Facebook.  Hurley was the ancient home of the Brookers.

And what a beautiful village!  The church at Hurley above.

But it was incorrect.  A nagging feeling that I really had not searched thoroughly enough, that this John Brooker of Hurley, totally disappeared before mine appeared in Rotherfield Peppard.  I want all of my genealogy to be well validated and properly sourced.  But particularly for my surname line.  I'm spending a lot of money on those Y chromosome tests.  I don't want to tag it to a bad, untrue ancestry.

So I took another look.  I found a doppelganger in the Hurley area.  He had children there, in the parish next to Hurley.  He fit the John Brooker born in Hurley during 1789 even better than my ancestor.  I had rushed, messed up.  I was too quick to accept the link.  I made another mistake.  It meant deleting a whole bunch of ancestors from my family tree.  But it had to be done.

So many Johns and Elizabeths

I kept looking online.  I kept seeing other John Brookers.  I even kept seeing more John and Elizabeth Brooker families!  Everything that I checked out on Ancestry.com and FindMyPast.com fails tests.  I need good evidence.  It was the free LDS service at FamilySearch.org though that provided the next candidate.  I see references to a number of children born to a John and Elizabeth Brooker at Sonning, Berkshire.  The children were all slightly older, and had different names to any of those later at Rotherfield.  I looked up Sonning.  Sonning Common was actually north of the Thames, right next to Rotherfield Peppard!  I even discover that my G.G.G grandfather John Brooker (Junior) was living there in 1841!  Eureka (again)!

I'm recording everything now.  I even buy some marriage and death certificates from the GRO, looking for any link whatsoever.  Any correlation.  Any new note or mention.  I also start to purchase CD-ROMS of transcripts of parish registers from the Oxfordshire FHS, and to consult them by email.  When I look closer, I can see that if this family really were mine, then the mother, Elizabeth, must have been incredibly young at marriage, around sixteen.  I'm starting to have doubts again.  A researcher from Oxfordshire FHS replied.  They explain the confusing situation with Sonning Common.  It belonged to a parish south of the river, in Berkshire.  They also doubted the connection.  The births just didn't fit.  My CD-ROMS start to arrive.  They didn't fit.

I'd chased the wrong connection again, for a second time.

If you don't succeed at first...

The latest attempts.  I'm not giving up yet.  Hurley was wrong.  Sonning was wrong.  I can still get this.  Then the other night, I played with some more online searches, and I see something on the 1861 census of Rotherfield Greys, that I hadn't spotted before!  There was an old couple living in another neighbouring parish by the name of John and Elizabeth Brooker.  Not only that, but the 1861 census recorded their parishes of birth.  This John Brooker was born at Long Wittenham, Berkshire.  Elizabeth was born at Drayton, Oxfordshire.  It fits.  Elizabeth Brooker born inside Oxfordshire, her husband John born outside of Oxfordshire!  And so close!  Have I done it this time?

There is a problem with the connection.  The ages are wrong.  According to the 1841 census, my ancestor John was born between 1787 and 1791.  The 1861 John was born 1781 - according to the enumerator.  Equally, in 1841 Elizabeth was recorded as being born between 1797 and 1801.  This 1861 Elizabeth was recorded as being born 1786.  They're too old.

However...  a search for a John Brooker baptised at Long Wittenham, produced two transcripts of a John, son of Edward and Elizabeth Brucker baptised 17th January 1789.  Wow, if this is the same guy at Rotherfield Grey in 1861, then his age is wildly out, and he fits into the age of my 1841 John after all.  It can happen.  They were old.  They could be deaf, or the person reporting to the enumerator could have had senile dementia.  A neighbour could have helped out, but got their ages wrong.  How many John & Elizabeth Brookers could be in the Rotherfield area?  I have yet another expensive Oxfordshire FHS parish register transcript CD-ROM on the way.  I feel increasingly pressured to spend a few days in the Oxfordshire and Berkshire record offices.  Long Wittenham has changed county.  It is near to Abingdon, on the south side of the Thames, and it was in Berkshire at that time.  It is now in Oxfordshire.  Drayton, is on the other side of the river, not far away.  The couple in must have met and married in that area of the Thames valley, and later, moved around twelve miles down river to the Rotherfield area.

Are they my 1841 couple though?  I have decided to add them to my tree - but subject to removal or verification, as I research them further.  If that baptism date pans out, with no earlier doppelganger being born in Long Wittenham, I'll start to feel happier.  If they do work out, then I have already found two new generations by the looks of it.  As I said above, this John, was the son of an Edward and Elizabeth Brucker.  He in turn, may have been the Edward Brooker baptised at Long Wittenham on 16th January 1757, to another earlier John and Mary Brooker.  It's taken me to a new and unexpected area of the Thames Valley.

Lessons to be learned

I doubt that anyone else ever reads these lengthy boring posts.  However should there be anyone out there, this is what I can pass to you:

  • Internet Genealogy is hazardous.  Not just because of the forest of diseased, incorrect, badly researched, badly sourced trees out there, that Family History websites push into your face.  It is also hazardous because it is incomplete, but easy.  It is easy to believe that all paper records are online.  They are not by a long chalk.  Even the paper record is actually incomplete.  Many parish records have been damaged, lost, destroyed.  Some even evaded them.  Some have not been handed over to archives.  It is too easy with Internet Search to look for a Joe Bloggs, find a Joe Bloggs, any, and to grab them.  However, did you grab the right one?  Was it simply the only one on the Internet, in that particular database entered transcription?
  • Don't be at a rush to grab your Joe Bloggs.  Take your time.  That is my weakness.
  • Don't be afraid to have doubt.  Keep going back.  Check, verify, check again.


Giving up Ancestors

I don't have to give these two up. My great grandfather Fred Smith, holding the hand of his daughter and my late grandmother Doris Smith around about 100 years ago in Norwich.

Trimming the branches

I make mistakes.  Genealogy is rarely perfect.  A part of the fun of the pastime, is in validating, verifying, and proving descent.  Sometimes though, the desire to simply add branches and histories, overtakes the quality control.  I'm guilty of that.  I've recently made a number of mistakes in my genealogical research.  A very good researcher would not make those mistakes in the first place.  They would research methodically and carefully, recording every data, looking for correlations - before they accept descent.  I on the other hand, still have a lot to learn.  However, I am willing to sometimes go back, check, check again, and if I'm not happy, remove ancestors, remove branches, remove histories.

With my recent return to genealogy, and my baptism into internet genealogical resources, I've witnessed the pitfall of the new age of research.  Family History websites push other people's trees and research at you.  However, so, so many of those that I've looked at, are erroneous, poorly sourced, and copied around like a mutated gene.  I want to create an ancestral record and history that is better than that.  I have an awful lot of work to do.

My recent mistakes have been shameful.  I made the above mistake - allowing MyHeritage.com to add branches to a couple of lines.  On checking their sources, and researching for myself, I couldn't validate the connections.  I removed them.

I wrongly identified a service record as belonging to a great grandfather.  That one hurt.

I extended my paternal surname line with too much haste.  I grabbed at a probable ancestor.  Later checks revealed a doppelganger.  I've had to go back to the drawing board, removing three generations from that line.

I don't regret these mistakes.  I'm always checking for validity.  A good quality family tree is better than a massive, old, but incorrect record.  The fun is after all, in the research, and that seems to go on forever.

East Anglian Ancestry

http://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

The above map has been modified from an original copied from © OpenStreetMap contributors

I have plotted my ancestral places that are tagged in my Gramps genealogical GEDCOM database.  These Places represent events -births, baptisms, marriages, or residence, etc.  These Places  belong to my direct ancestors, although they may also include siblings of ancestors.  Overall, I have modified this map in order to illustrate the distribution of my East Anglian (almost entirely of the County of Norfolk, with a few over the border in Suffolk) ancestors over the past 350 years - as so far revealed by paper genealogical research.

The BLUE markers represent the places of my father's recorded ancestors.  The RED markers represent the places of my mother's recorded ancestors.  The more events recorded for any place, the larger the marker.  You can click on the image in order to see a full resolution image.

The RED markers include pretty much all events for my mother's ancestors, as presently recorded in my family history database.  She has no recorded ancestry from outside of Norfolk, for the past 350 years.  She has an incredibly strong Norfolk ancestry.  Particularly in the East of Norfolk.

The BLUE markers do not cover all of my father's recorded ancestors, as I have also detected ancestry for him in Oxfordshire, London, and possibly Lincolnshire.  These ancestors lived outside of the mapped area.

When my mother and father initially met each other in 1956, they believed that they came from quite different parts of Norfolk, from opposite sides of the City of Norwich, with my father moving from East Dereham to my mother's neighbourhood in the Hassingham area.  Yet this map suggests that over the past 350 years, some of their ancestors have lived much closer.  The chances of them both sharing common ancestry during the Medieval, or even more recently are good.

This might support the findings of the POBI (People of the British Isles) 2015 study, that not only emphasised the homogeneous nature of the English, but also suggested that the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms could still be detected as localised gene pools to today.

I have previously created the below map, using red dappling to mark out the main zone of my mother's ancestry, onto a map of East Norfolk, as it would have appeared during the 5th Century AD, before sea levels fell, and drainage works created the more recent Norfolk coast:

My hypothesis is that my mother's ancestors clustered in an area of East Anglia, that would most likely have experienced an influx of North Sea immigration between the 4th and 11th centuries AD from Frisia, and perhaps Angeln and Denmark.

I also modified the below map from Wikimedia Commons.  Attribution is: By Nilfanion [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.  This map, as the legend states, illustrates the distribution of my recorded direct ancestors (bother on my father's and mother's sides are in RED) across the wider area of England at a single generation level, based between 1756 to 1810.  It suggests a combined ancestry, concentrated in Norfolk, East Anglia, but with a few lineages in Wessex / Mercia.